Linsey Scriven

2014, NonFiction


I was nine when Mom dragged me from Las Vegas to live with relatives in rural Oklahoma. With Child Protective Services and an angry rental attendant at her heels, she escaped across state lines, hollering at me: “Keep that attitude in check and we won’t have to move again! All that open space for you to burn off steam. You better listen and keep that mouth of yours shut!” I had never lived beyond the cradle of that neon desert, and my only exposure to the middle of the country were photos of cow pasture and a blue Lincoln Continental stuffed inside a book wrapped in puffy fabric and fraying ribbon. We packed a small U-Haul and crossed the San Juan Mountains to a land so flat I avoided windows, afraid people from miles away could spy on me.

We spent the night in Kingman and stopped at an Indian Reservation to buy me a dream catcher. I hung it from the rear view mirror, the beads glittering in the sun, the wind from the open window fanning its gray and brown feathers; my mom clutched at the wheel with her good hand, cursing every time the truck fought against her advances. “This sonofabitch governor! I’ll be in the fucking grave before we get there!” Later, when we returned the U-Haul, the sales associate winked down at me and asked if I had enjoyed myself.

“Yep. But my mom didn’t. She was having trouble with the government.”


We arrived at night. The red brick house glowed yellow, wild bushes and a concrete porch at the entrance, a snorting Pekingese yipping at my grandma’s feet. It had been years since I saw Grandma, a short, bald woman with magnifying glasses and lipstick smeared on her dentures. Our relationship had revolved around the Halloween costumes she sewed me every year. The costumes never failed to disappoint: when I asked to be Pocahontas from the Disney movie, she created a potato sack with red ribbon and beaded headband with a single feather sticking up in the back. When I asked to be Poison Ivy from the newest Batman movie, she deemed it too sexy and made me Raggedy Ann. Red yarn wig, baggy pants and a patchy blouse, all left in the shipping box; I threw on a Scream mask instead and stormed my apartment complex, my breath hot on my face, slicing at the younger kids with a plastic knife.

The living room was dusty and empty, only a shadow in passing. Grandma had set up camp at the dining room table, television and couch crammed in a space suitable for a small family meal. Newspapers and mail crowded the tiny, circular surface, crusty plastic plates and empty soda cans scattered on the floor. Books and more paper stacked on the couch, just enough space cleared for Grandma to fit. The floral fabric was cigarette-burned, a white circle pressed into the cushion from her weight.

Grandma put a finger to her lips, peering down at me. “Your great grandma is asleep. She is old and her heart can’t handle much. If you don’t behave, she will die.”

I crushed the sewing magazine beneath my sneaker.

Grandma led us down the skinny hallway, faces of people I had never seen lining the wall. She pointed out the bedroom where Mom and I would sleep, every corner piled with videocassettes and old dolls, dressers of various sizes topped with high-collared blouses, wool child coats, faded and misshaped snapbacks. Mom would have to slide up from the foot of the bed, unable to squeeze into the little space between mattress and materials.

The door to Grandma’s room was ajar. Inside, a small twin bed and sewing machine, all hidden beneath swollen garage bags, layers of dress patterns, magazines, paperbacks with their pages all crumbled and water-stained, and an army of coffee rimmed mugs on a pile of quilts. Later, when I couldn’t sleep, I snuck down the hallway to see Grandma sleeping on top of it all, her bald head cradled by a plastic bag.

All these things to keep Grandma company in the house she had grown up and now took care of her dying mother. For my family, open corners led to thoughts of inferiority and loneliness, and when Grandma peered at all her handmade collections overflowing her shelves and drawers she felt full on the inside.

Behind me was the door to Great Grandma’s room. The wood seemed to tremble in its frame, a faint ghostly noise spilling from its hinges. Was the noise a murmuring fan or the slapping blinds from an open window? I listened closer. I heard scratching on the plywood, or maybe it was Great Grandma tapping her yellow nails impatiently on her bedside table, waiting for me to end the long hot days of her failing heart.


Mom was a cripple.

The only job she could get was ringing bell for the Salvation Army during Christmas time. Standing in front of Walmart or Lucky’s, she chatted with customers and vagrants, her cropped hair dyed blonde or red, styled like the hairdos of Princess Diana with help from hairspray and pick.

Before Mom had a stroke at 29, she cocktail-waitressed, snorted miles of coke, and chased diet pills with shots at the bar before shifts. She blamed the diet pills for the stroke; she blamed the casinos for the diet pills. She stepped on a scale every month in front of her bosses and was under contract to keep her weight down. She sashayed around ringing slot machines, carrying drinks and dollar bills, the sharp corset of her costumes stealing her breath; she floated through parties and teetered on her lack of significance, each high elevating her above the men who shoved dollars between her breasts and told her not to be so shy.

She described the stroke to me once. Back then, the doctors couldn’t do anything for her condition, and they left her on a metal slab to ride out the paralysis. Why not a hospital bed? “Easier cleanup,” she said. “Already rolling my ass to the morgue. No hope. They said I would never speak again. Never walk again. Your mom sure showed them!” It took years of physical therapy for her to learn to walk again and her right hand would always be in the position of holding a piece of paper.


In Grandma’s house, the dream catcher hung from the bedpost on my side. A knot was loose on one of its hide strings; I fumbled to retie it, a bead dropping into my hand. I dragged the bead through the sunlight, mesmerized by its glittery paint. There was print on the inside: MADE IN TAWAIN. I thought of the store where we bought it: smelly bathrooms, loud restaurant in the back, rows of overpriced trinkets. I was sucking on a Jolly Rancher when I spotted it hanging beside the picture frames and ceramic howling wolves. I said: Oh, please can I get it? I promise to never back talk again! Mom said: Yeah, right.

I put the bead in my mouth and sucked on it like candy.


My brother joined us soon after our arrival. Shane was ten years older, one of two sons Mom had with her first husband. Prone to mood swings, he slept the mornings away and watched cartoons and rented tapes all night. He swore he met aliens somewhere at a bus stop near Boulder City and always brought home homeless cats after his pizza delivery shifts. At one point we had twenty cats in our two bedroom apartment. Mom couldn’t take all the meowing and cat hair. She piled all twenty cats into a clothes hamper and duct taped the lid shut. Clawing cat limbs poked out from the holes on the sides, beady yellow eyes staring at me unblinking. With one hand she dragged the hissing hamper down a flight of stairs and across the complex to her car, the cats digging into her thighs at every chance.

Shane brought from Vegas sculptures made in high school ceramic class, twisted and glossed in dark colors, where he stored quarters and buttons, bags of weed and rolling paper, neon lighters that’d make your thumb raw trying to get a flame. He slept on the couch because all the rooms were taken up, blackened, smelly socks forgotten in between the cushions. His brown hair long on top and slightly curly; we shared the same smile that made our eyes get all squinty. He wore Walmart jeans, shirts with graffiti art, and polos from pizza joints.

One day Shane looked at me from the couch, asking: “Want to learn how to drive?” We went outside, the sunlight warm on my face, sounds of cows in the distance. The Lincoln from the pictures sat in the yard, piles of dead leaves around its tires, the dashboard dusty and the windshield cracked down the middle.

He banged open the door, cursing loudly when the ignition wouldn’t turn over. Banged open the hood to peek inside. I was drawing rain turtles in the dirt because Mom said the state was in a drought. “Just outta fuel,” he said. He stalked the yard for a hose and something that looked like a plastic kettle. Then he went to the lawn mower Grandma had rolled out for him to use. Crouching, he sucked until he gagged loudly, the hose dripping into the kettle. I was in the front seat when he finished feeding lawn mower gas to the Lincoln.

Lemme start it up for you,” he said.

I slid over the white bench, ripped fabric catching on my jeans. I wiped at my legs and my hand came away coated brown. Shane had to plead, call the car a motherfucker, a cock-sucking bitch, slam on the gas pedal and punched hard at the wide steering wheel, for the old thing to start. I jumped and punched at the air; Shane grinned and gave me a blue-eyed squint.

He drove up to the gate to the pasture and I jumped out to let him through. When we were a safe way from the house, he slipped out and gestured for me to take the wheel. “All right, your turn.” 

The wheel was white and metal, and I had a hard time getting my fingers all the way around. I stared at Shane next to me, afraid to look ahead. I could barely see over the dashboard.

“Okay. Slowly push on the pedal.”

I scooted and stretched my leg until I could reach. The car lunged forward, Shane palmed the fuzzy ceiling to brace himself. None of us wore seatbelts; I didn’t know how fast we were going. Some cows grazed up ahead and I jerked left to chase after them. They scattered, heavy muscle moving beneath cowhide like grass in wind. “Slow down!” Shane yelled. I didn’t know how. We hurled forward at increasing speed. I marveled at our acceleration, like I had in the U-Haul on those wide highways, Mom slowing at every corner and asking me to look out for those flashing light fuckers. Trees on my left, an old wire fence on my right. Shane white-knuckled the crackling upholstery. We hit a rock or hole, and soared. Time stopped. The wheel hummed in my hands, metal in pudgy palms. We hit ground, and there was a breaking sound like a box filled with dishes flying from one corner to another in the U-Haul.

“Stop! Fucking Christ, stop!”

“How?” I screamed.

“Release the pedal!”

“I don’t know how to release it!”

“Just stop—fucking stop!”

I let go of both the wheel and pedal, and Shane lunged over to steer us to safety. He was pale and trembling when he drove us back.

Back in the dining room, Shane flopped down on the couch. “This kid almost got us killed.”

Grandma looked up from a sewing magazine. She wore an auburn wig today, deep red lipstick bleeding into the lines around her mouth. “Julie should have never brought this child. She thinks she knows what she’s doing, but she has made mistake after mistake since divorcing your father.”

“I don’t even remember what it was like when they were married, when it was just me and the bro.” Shane flipped through channels lazily.

“Shane started it!” I yelled. “He told me to drive!”

Grandma glared at me above her eyeglasses. “Lower your voice. Your great grandma needs all the rest she can get.”

“I didn’t think you were gonna try to kill us,” Shane said.

I picked at the wallpaper in the doorway, trying to think of something to say. “At least I don’t drink gas,” I mumbled.

Grandma snapped her fingers at me. “Get away from there! How dare you destroy your great grandma’s house?”

I kicked the wall and ran into the bedroom, slamming the door behind me.

“God damn it!”

Grandma’s voice drifted above sitcom laughter, the tears hot on my cheeks. I punched at the mattress, my skin itching beneath my sweater. I still felt the humming wheel in my hands, my body moving because of me.


Mom spent her days on the computer, playing checkers online with strangers and raising families on The Sims. She listened to Beatles CDs over and over and reminisced about her teenage years. Soon there were rumors that she was seeing an Indian fellow who worked at a gas station in the nearby town of Ada. I never met him, nor did I ever know his name. The family only referred to him as The Indian. Mom pretended she wasn’t dating anyone.

I occupied my time riding around the tiny neighborhoods in Ada with Shane. Shane liked to get Taco Bell to snack on in the car while he visited loads of people. He would park a little down the street from a house, tell me to stay put, and then run in quickly to grab baggies that fit in his palm. He was always giddy when he returned, his eyes wide and excited. He would fumble with the stereo, turning up the rap songs on his mix tapes that made the car shake and its speakers to buzz. Sometimes we got snow cones from the only place in town that sold them. Sometimes Shane got too angry about having to stand in line and stormed off instead.

Grandma ate lunch in restaurants every day. We usually met her at the Blue Moon Café, one of the only restaurants in town. The café had black and white checkers and pictures of Elvis on the walls; they served fried catfish and chicken fried steak. Shane and I liked getting their bacon cheeseburgers. Grandma liked drinking iced coffee that she made herself by ordering hot coffee and a glass of ice. She usually got a salad or a bloody steak because she was always on a fad diet. She spent the time checking her watch and wondering whether Mom had remembered to give Great Grandma her medication. “That back room burns like hell at this time in the afternoon,” she would say. “I just don’t think Julie can be trusted to help her.”


The house wasn’t big enough for five people. I was sent outside to run around, but it was hard to have fun without other kids. I got my rain turtle stick and hit tree trunks with all my might. I beat the ground, the side of the house. I smacked the top of my shoes, then my ankles and shins. I moved up to my thighs and hit until I ached and my skin burned. I dragged the stick across the wire fence at a run, trying to capture the feeling of being in the Lincoln. If only I knew how to release the pedal I would drive around the country and take pictures of mountains and camp out under the stars. No one would be able to find me, and Mom would worry and Grandma would be sorry.

I went inside but there was nowhere to sit near the television. I stayed in the dusty living room holding my rain stick. I saw a figure pass between bedrooms in the hall, the end of its blue bathrobe dragging across the floor. Grandma was in front of the television and Mom was on the computer. The figure crossed the hallway again; this time I made out its hunched back and unsteady gait. Somehow my bedridden Great Grandma was walking from bedroom to bedroom in search of something. I moved closer, terrified at the prospect of meeting her. I imagined she had white misty eyes like an oracle and black decaying teeth. I moved slowly along the beaten down carpet and found the doors ajar, but Great Grandma was nowhere in sight. I stopped in front of the only closed door and listened for her breathing. The door trembled like it did that first night, and I could hear murmuring above the whirling fan. With a shaking hand I tapped my stick to the door and waited for a reply. On the other side footsteps paced near the threshold, the murmuring continuing uninterrupted.

I knew what she sought in the cluttered rooms. I went to the bathroom and sat cross-legged on the puffy linoleum to rummage in the cabinets until I found a cardboard box of hair. The box was gold with green trim and smelled like old books. Inside was a heap of curls individually tied with green ribbon. Something deep down told me this was Great Grandma’s hair from when she had her whole life ahead of her. I caressed the soft curls with fingers sticky with dirt and tree sap. I felt like I was touching parts of a ghost.

Grandma came down the hall carrying pill bottles. “Get out of there! I can’t handle you messing with things with your Great Grandma so ill!”

I showed her the box. “This is what she needs.”

“That’s your great grandma’s hair from when she was a child. Now put that away and get into the tub. You smell to high heaven!”

I drew a bath to please her. I didn’t get undressed but stood next to the bathtub with the box of hair. I watched the rising water, the scattering bubbles and steam. I felt moist and hot in the face. I thought about the ancient woman in the next room over and all the years she lived on this land so flat I was sure I could see the ocean on the horizon. I overturned the box, a flood of brown locks floating like miniature ships on the water. They looked like a fleet trying to escape the faucet’s mega waterfall.

Grandma peeked in to see if I was bathing. “You little monster!” she said when she saw the drowning ribbons of hair.

She yanked my arm and clumsily tried to swat my butt. I tore off her wig and beat at her chest with my fists. I screamed until my lungs burned. Above the commotion came calls for help. Grandma froze, her nails biting into my arm, her wig crumpled at her feet. She stormed from the bathroom. “I’m coming!” she yelled to the walls.

The ambulance was called. Men in white squeezed a bed with wheels down the hallway. Great grandma was wheeled from the house, an oxygen mask over her face. Her hair was no longer brown and shiny, but a wispy gray. She was tiny under her knitted nightgown, her sickly white skin translucent in the afternoon sun. She seemed to not be whole, a disappearing body that had become another attachment for the bed. Peering into her blank eyes it was hard to believe she existed.


Linsey Scriven is currently an MFA student at Mills College in Oakland, California. She is from Las Vegas, Nevada, and her journalism can be read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Las Vegas CityLife. This is her first literary publication. 

Petrina Crockford

2014, Fiction


The doctor pulled the baby from the woman while she lay on the sweat-soaked hospital bed, the sweat coming from her back, her arms, her legs, because beneath that bright hospital light and with the windows shut and the curtains pulled and the strain of pushing life from the gut, all she could do was grit her teeth against the pain, and with her feet in the air—her soles held by two nurses in blue—she could only grit her teeth and sweat, in silence, the sweat sticking her dark hair to her face, her hair as dark as her eyes as dark as the moments when the contractions roll over her like heat sickness, blacking her vision and settling over her like curtains settling over the hospital windows with a view of the desert, endless brown and white and gray-blue, shadeless as the lamp in the motel room she calls home, home with a hot plate and a small refrigerator and a pink coverlet with cigarette stains that don’t belong to her, like the handprint on the wall above the bed, and she put her hand on this handprint and wondered who it belonged to, who had put it there and why, whether on purpose or by accident did this person leave evidence of themselves and where, if anywhere, were they now, she thought, as she stood up and dressed for work, stretching her uniform over her stomach—and she feels it is a he; and she knows already what she will name it—the stomach she’s careful not to bump into the edges of the counters she cleans, wiping them with bleach that strips her hands so raw she must wear Band-aids like rings, pulling at them while she rides the bus home at night, while a certain redness spreads across the sky and she thinks, in those moments, It will not last forever; she thinks, It will be better, because one cannot live forever, eating out of dented cans from the grocery store, but when she thinks of the future she thinks of the past, so different from the view out her motel window: a parking lot, but beyond it neat houses rise to the horizon, and it is towards this horizon that she walks one night, in the early evening, among these houses and the recycling bins that the people in the houses have set out for morning, and as she’s walking she hears water—not lapping, but splashing—and she walks towards the sound until, through the slats of a fence, she sees a pool, the water a kind of blue she has never seen before, blue reflecting the smooth white bottom of the pool, and there are children laughing and playing in the pool, and that night she waited behind a tree until the children had gone into the house, and when she was sure all the lights were off, she reached over the fence and unlocked the gate and then she took off her clothes and crept into the water, careful not to let it ripple too much, and she swam on the surface and dove deep to the bottom, kicked her feet beneath her—this might have been a river—before she emerged to slip past the gate and walk back home and sit on her bed in the room with the shadeless lamp, with the bulb burning bright, to wait for this moment, now, in this hospital room with the white walls and the white lights, the nurses in blue and the doctor hunched between her legs, coming up every now and then to tell her to push, to push from somewhere deep, some reservoir of strength within, though of course he doesn’t say this, but she thinks of the pool and the blue water, and the smooth-faced nurse wipes her face with a towel and says, no te preocupes, a strange kindness she will remember forever, while the doctor pulls the baby out and up and, look, it emerges screaming like a wounded animal, blood-red and purple, and she is frightened to see it looking that way because she will protect it from everything—she is frightened at her own pain, too—because she is afraid she has failed to protect it already, and the doctor pulls the baby out of her so she can swaddle it, finally, in her arms and call it what she will name it, and teach it what she will teach it—the truth, whatever truth is—and she will love it, and the doctor asks her: What will you call it, and she says, victoriously, “Victor,” and the doctor, not understanding her, leaves her in that room, beneath those lights, to pour himself a coffee at the nurse’s station, something he does even though he knows the coffee is bitter and lukewarm, and he says hello to the nurses and he writes a note on someone’s chart, and when it’s time for him to fill out the birth certificate he forgets, briefly, what the woman said, he forgets until, yes, he remembers, and so he writes, in pen, on the birth certificate: “Bitor.”


Petrina Crockford graduated from Yale University with a BA in English Literature and received her MFA from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her fiction has appeared in Meridian, the Feminist Wire, and r.k.v.r.y, and she has written nonfiction for the Paris Review and Words Without Borders. She’s been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and a finalist for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Literature Prize. She lives in Santa Barbara, CA.

Donald Mitchell

2014, NonFiction


I find it while clearing away big chunks of rotting old-growth cedar, dark boles of shake wood inspected and rejected no doubt by my great-grandfather early last century. I’m opening a space in these woods for a writing cabin. I think this may be a good sign.

It’s the Oregon variety— the salamander, I mean. That’s what the book says, though in the photograph the Oregon race is lighter, and this one is the color of Irish stout. I didn’t even notice it at first, lost in the bric-a-brac shadows of the lady ferns, but when I returned to kick up and cart away another rotten wedge, there it was, standing tall and stiff as the Royal Guard— well, as stiff and tall as a salamander can stand, anyway. It often does that, I’ve read, holds up the tail like a shitting cow, waits for something to snatch it off so it can run like hell— well, as fast as a salamander can run, anyway.

There are those who believe, or have believed, that a salamander can withstand fire; I see that. Though exposed now, this little guy was quite safe under that soggy lump of wood, and if the crowns of the forest were raging in a holocaust above it and baking everything around it to embers and cinder, there is every chance in this world it would remain damp and serene, bathed in its regenerative and protective darkness. And I can imagine some scavenging opportunist like me, in whatever century, in whatever millennium, scouring the smoldering aftermath, pulling back a block of charred wood, not noticing anything right away, then returning to find this naked, perpetually wet little thing standing, as alive as the gods, in the pale brimstone and ashes. A startling new element! Not good to eat, but sure good to marvel at and to shiver about— because it’s weird, isn’t it, how just a smidgeon of truth can cause the heart to flip? There, where nothing was before, is something now— a shining, black homunculus, standing tense and ready, utterly naked and vulnerable and yet seemingly immune to the universe, obliging me to center my whole life on it. It’s as if some tiny creature living at the base of my skull has suddenly recognized itself and is shrieking.

Maybe I don’t know if this is a good sign or not, but what can I do but stand amazed? Under these boughs, in this spot where I hope to build my own refuge, here is a wonder. And if I ever get this cabin to rise, I pray this little wonder will choose to live beneath it; I require something this dark, something this cool and immemorial at home below the orange heat, under all the burning questions I have to ask. I need that immunity, that alertness and vulnerability— that willingness to be whatever it takes.


Donald J. Mitchell lives on his family’s 130 year old homestead in Deming, WA. He digs up and repairs water lines and works at several other labor jobs. He has written poetry and non-fiction all of his adult life and is currently trying his hand at fiction.

Ariana Nadia Nash

2014, Poetry


We came because we heard
before they left they scattered seeds.
We hoped for orchards,
pools in the dents their bodies made in the earth,
a change in the texture of air
where their breath might still hang golden.

We found instead that they had never left.
They had waited so long
for their garden to rupture the earth
they had sunk into the hillside,
their great bolderous bodies slumped into piles.
Their patient faces, turned still toward the east,
eroded slowly. Water streaming
over their bodies began to carve tattoos,
until they retreated into rock.

We lay our light flesh against their bulk
and felt their fires still smoldering.
We could read in the trembling against our skin
their epic histories — crawling out of the sea
and rushing across these flatlands,
of great hopes for these lands.

We listened to their whispers,
between earth and sky is our silence,
between earth and sky is our death.

We could only lie against them and offer
the gratitude of our palms,
the altar of our foreheads garlanded with sweat
in tribute that they remained,
holding earth and sky together.

And we could grasp hands and feel
for the first time the valleys and slopes
of our skin and our flesh in this garden,
in this graveyard of the gods.

9 to 5

9am. We live now where the hours suck the soles like mud
where the mind snaps back on itself, rubber-banding

Yes, we are being dramatic
Yes, an office is not a prison

10am. Woman Bending Over Ferns, can we take you even here?

Yes we can carry you, but will you come?

11pm. Is it enough to think poached eyes on ghost
at our reflection? When words are counted and charged

If we could wander Dublin for a day forever

12pm. If there is a river, if there are bridges, if trains
run across those bridges

1pm. Somewhere
it is snowing in a square and a quartet of cellos
is playing Greensleeves as the snow falls lightly
and history is recollection

Yes, these things are romantic
Yes, a quartet of cellos is a singular noun
Yes, nothing romantic in air conditioning

2pm. Woman Bending Over Ferns, chiseled from prayer,
tell us the arms open even here
Tell us there is a guitar playing somewhere the sounds of salt and blood

that they withstand the fluorescent light


4pm. We have choices we are sure we do
We do not know where we make them
We do not know if they are like children who we create
and who become their own

An office is astonishingly quiet

5pm. Let your body curving over the ferns be a window
Let the ferns be light and noise

Let tomorrow be transformed by today
Let today by tomorrow


Ariana Nadia Nash
is the winner of the 2011 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry for her collection Instructions for Preparing Your Skin (Anhinga Press, 2013). She is also the author of the chapbook Our Blood Is Singing (Damask Press, 2012). She is a recipient residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. Her work has been published in Rock & Sling, Cider Press Review, Poet Lore, Cimarron Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and The Southeast Review, among other journals. She teaches creative writing, including in 2014–15 teaching poetry at the University of Chicago. More information and links to poems by Ariana can be found on her website at

Vanessa Jimenez Gabb

2014, Poetry

my father and i build a family tree

he names dead people
              as far back as two hundred years

he or she would have remembered
              more, he says

it is not morbid his saying

              this i want to get it

all, I say

              in case you are hit by a car tomorrow

this is morbid

              i like the way it feels

to see the blood

              the tiny red bugs

crossing over

              i smear

white nor black

              just alive a moment ago

eyes a little wet

              allergy in the body

gave this away before before
               is it Caribbean

to be intolerant
               is it indigenous to be intolerant

human to be of flowers and dust
               sent into the air

this is either very glorious
               or too ceremonial

i have never asked this
               many closed-ended questions

i hope it doesn’t feel punitive
               to know without sounding

so imperious i am sorry

               something has opened

into more and i am here
               thinking of all the parts of me

that died at the bottom of a long night

               working and if not working

for the government making it work

               in one room

the beginnings of socialism

               or capitalism

how well can we know ourselves

               in different systems of being

question answer parenthetical
               he comes upon a bit of memory

put it beside the men and women

               this is how i will place them

and remember them
               if there is a blank

will go on forever
               far enough into the ghosts

the fucking

               everyone did is in


               the air about us

political it is

               to be here

the backyard in Queens

               spread out like leaves


               pilferers in the rainforest


Vanessa Jimenez Gabb was raised and lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of the chapbook Weekend Poems (dancing girl press) and is the co-founder of Five Quarterly. More stuff:

Heidi Czerwiec

2014, NonFiction


When I was young, I checked out armfuls of Choose Your Own Adventure books from the library, ten or so at a time. Reading them the way I did required athletic, agile hands. I wanted to keep all options, all avenues open. Every time a choice presented itself, I inserted a finger in that page so I could retrace my steps, follow each narrative path the book offered. The stories, with their endless turns, required every digit I could deploy, and often I’d end up forced to flip pages with my nose or chin. In this garden of forking paths, my fingers were threads I followed back to the plot so I could always take the road not taken. I couldn’t stand the idea of a choice, any choice, being closed to me, so I read on with sprained, spraddled fingers.


By the time Wyatt has reached six months, I finally lose the feeling that choosing to raise him has been a mistake. I fantasize less about the social worker, at our once-monthly post-placement meetings, snatching Wyatt away from us and declaring me unfit. Less about turning him back in to the agency before the adoption is made formally legal. Less about telling Jodi, who watches Wyatt three afternoons a week, who adores him and is also waiting to adopt, here – take him. He’d be better off with you.

I hate myself for writing those things just now. Of course I would never have done any of them. I love Wyatt. When not in the same room with him, I obsess over him, hunger to hold him again. Plus, surrender was not an option – if I had given him back, I couldn’t have lived without him, couldn’t have lived with myself or the look on my husband’s  face. So my only choice was the weird, twilight half-life I found myself

And it was hard, the kind of hard few want mothers to admit. Months of midnight feedings that bled into the dark days of a North Dakota winter, months of feeling isolated with an infant while my husband got to escape to the adult world of work, months of growing distrust at my nascent mothering skills. Constantly running up-and downstairs and forgetting to eat except in the odd free moment caused me to drop twenty pounds. As a result, on the rare occasion that I was out in public, people would comment that I looked great, that parenting seemed to agree with meI glared back, sure they were fucking with me. My writer-friends with new babies both had recently-accepted book manuscripts – publications that would help them ride out the dry spell of those early mothering months. My manuscript languished in the lists of eternal semifinalistsalways a bridesmaid. And because I wrote no new poems in the meanwhile, I had nothing to send out. Facebook posts of friends’ publishing triumphs seemed to gloat, though I tried to muster enthusiasm. But these feelings, dark as they were, were not unusual among new mothers, especially writer-moms. So why wasspecial?

Because the worst part was all the deliberate choice that went into being Wyatt’s mom. One does not accidentally adopt. There are no surprise adoptions. There is the nearly year-long process of interviews and background checks and psych evals and medical checkups and examinations of finances. Weekends of parenting workshops where we reconditioned ourselves away from fraught phrases: not “give up for adoption” but choose adoption.” Not “your birthmother was bad,” but “your birthmother made bad choices.” Always the emphasis on the choices, made and unmade.

And all that even before we got cleared to appear in The Book: a collection of profiles (both in binders and online) from which birthmothers make their selection. Many of the profiles had a scrapbook-crafty look – fun fonts and pictures with pinked edges mounted on novelty papers – and featured North Dakota couples and their values: mostly sports, hunting, large extended families, pets as surrogate children. Having so many choices can be a burden. How would we stand out? As a couple with five English degrees between us (three in creative writing), we treated the profile like the high-stakes rhetorical assignment it was: we drafted and redrafted, crafting a narrative that emphasized the heroic birthmother (“you”) and her brave choices, inviting her to picture her child in the home and life we described. We were empathetic, fun, educated without sounding elitist, even funny. We hired a photographer friend to shoot  unphotogenic us looking as comfortable and warm as possible. We submitted the profile and we waited.

As it turns out, we didn’t wait long. The average is a year from when a couple enters The Book; we waited three months before a birthmother chose our profile and her social worker contacted us to set up a meeting. The social worker gave us a thumbnail sketch of the birthmother: white, 23 years old, single mother of a 3-year-old daughter, 17 weeks pregnant by an unknown father – she believed she’d been roofied at a party. Had not had a drink since discovering she was pregnant, was still trying to stop smoking. Did we want to meet with her? We did. Now, because the father’s unknown, it could be a mixed-race baby. Did we have a problem with that? We did not. You sure? We’re sure.

We drove to Bismarck, eight hours round-trip across flat, broad swathes of brown farmland stippled green with seedlings under an endless sky of oppressive blue – after Fargo, nothing to punctuate the landscape except the occasional grain elevator, cryptic exit signs with names like “Buffalo/Alice,” and towns a hundred miles apace. In town, we found the building, an odd, squat cylinder that looked like an old paint can, and made our way through the offices, beigely outdated, to a meeting room where we waited, anxious. Then, Kinzey: a sweet and confused girl with huge brown eyes, liquid behind thick glasses, so shy and ashamed she had brought her best friend to do most of the talking. A lapsed Catholic, she couldn’t bring herself to get an abortion, though her friend had offered to help pay and to drive her the two hundred miles to the only clinic serving three states. I didn’t know what to say – as a feminist, I supported any decision she would have made, but I was so glad she had chosen to carry this baby, maybe for us.

We let the friend ask questions, but addressed our answers to Kinzey. I let fly a well-timed f-bomb calculated to put her at ease, to win her over – her brown eyes widened, and she laughed in surprise. By the end of the meeting, she had chosen us to parent her child – a son, we soon found out, when she invited us to her ultrasound appointment a week later. A son whose birth we would miss, six months later when, just after midnight on New Year’s, my phone rang and Kinzey’s friend told us hurry, he’s coming fast and fast we drove but didn’t go as far as Fargo before she texted us pictures of our perfect, angry red boy.

So someone specifically chose me: to mother her child, to give him the life she wanted for herself, wanted to give him before she thought I can’t raise this child, and then gave him by giving him up. I try to live up to the weight of her choice, to deserve her son. Now, after six difficult months of wondering if I could raise him, I begin to believe I can. The warm sun returns to the High Plains, and Wyatt and I spend afternoons on a quilt in the park. I am finally fluent in his cries, his noises, his rudimentary communications. I plan classes for the fall semester, simultaneously ecstatic to be engaging my brain again, and guilt-ridden over Wyatt starting daycare in a month.

When adoption day comes, I can testify, truthfully, in court, that I want to be Wyatt’s mother. We have kept texting with Kinzey both in the months before and after his birth (always texting – she’s too shy to call and talk), and pay for gas and hotel so that she can be part of the big day. We celebrate with pictures outside the courthouse and brunch downtown.

That fall, with its adjustments to our family schedule, especially me returning to work, is difficult, but we start to make sense of it, to make plans for our future – I apply for sabbatical leave to finish a poetry project, my husband for law school. Kinzey, working full-time and working at an associate’s degree, keeps up with us through sporadic texts. One night while clearing up after supper, my phone vibrates with a message from her:

                  So some unexpected news im pregnant its a real shock. 

I respond with alarm and worry, for which she is grateful. More than anything she fears being judged, and I try hard not to do that to her. But I admit it: my first reaction is disappointment. One of the outcomes of us adopting Wyatt is a second chance for her – to stay employed, finish a degree, and get control of her life. Then she texts:

                                     Im choosing adoption again after seeing what a gift
                                     it was to you. You are the best parents i could have
                                     found for my baby. I dont know if i will find anyone

                                     like you.

A few texts later, it creepingly occurs to me that she’s hoping for us to offer to take on this child as well. My gut seizes up. Another baby? We didn’t plan on a second. I’ve almost made it through the first year with the first. I do some quick math and estimate that she’ll be due around March or April – meaning two babies under the age of a year and a half. My insides curl tighter. I text back something like, Wow, this is a lot to deal with. I’m glad adoption was such a good experience for all of us. I hope the right decision will be obvious. Let us know how you are, and what you choose. We love you. Then I call my husband into the kitchen, show him my phone, the exchange of messages.

Over the next few days, Evan and I huddle together in bed and over coffee and picked-at meals, our thoughts running back and forth, hard and fast. We can’t take this baby. I barely made it through the last year – I don’t know if I can do it again. What about law school? What about the poetry project? We gave away all the baby stuff Wyatt’s already outgrown. I bet we could get it back. Where would we even put another baby? I guess the baby would be in our room for a while, but then would have to share a room with Wyatt. Now we’re imagining logistics, picturing the new baby already in our home, in our lives. But what about our plans? We’ll have to put them off by at least a couple years. We don’t need to ask how we’ll afford another adoption process – we have enough, a sum we’ve stockpiled in anticipation of losing Evan’s salary when he leaves his job for law school. And because she’s choosing us outside the negotiations of the agency, it will be treated as an “identified adoption,” where the adoptive parents know the birthmother, a process more streamlined, fast-tracked, less expensive. Is being in a position to pay a blessing, or an obligation? But the cost of another child? That’s twice the cost for everything. How would another baby affect the life we want to provide for Wyatt? He wouldn’t have as many comforts, but then again, he would have a sibling, his sibling. We never planned on adopting another child. This isn’t just another child. This is Wyatt’s sibling. If we were the ones who had a surprise pregnancy, a second child we weren’t planning on, we’d find a way to absorb it. Does that mean we should, that we have to, absorb Kinzey’s bad choices? If we don’t, how could we explain to him that we had the chance to adopt his sister or brother, but didn’t? But our plans, our plans! Mornings, I take care of Wyatt, picture trying to keep up with his rapidly expanding repertoire of activities, but once again horribly sleep-deprived, newborn in tow.

I send panicky messages to my guru, another adoptive mother and writer with whom I’d bonded over the previous months. Two kids under a year and a half! I already feel like I’ll never get any writing done ever again. And yet, and yet, and yet. Tell me I’m not a horrible person if I don’t take on this baby.

She quickly responds: Heidi, it sounds like your gut is telling you that you and Evan can’t do this, and feel good about what you can give Wyatt. There’s a happy medium between wresting babies away from teenage girls like in the ‘60s and having a person with lifelong problems fall in your lap as an adult, almost like you adopted Kinzey. You did not adopt Kinzey. You are not responsible for her life and her choices.

The word “choice” has been around since prehistory, but before the Renaissance, it mostly referred to matters of taste, of preference. The sense of weighing alternative courses of action doesn’t really come about until humanity had begun to lose its fatalistic worldview, its sense of predestination.

Over the next week, Evan spends a lot of time pacing the back deck, on the phone with his friends. I sit awake in the dark, feeding Wyatt his midnight bottle, wondering how much longer we will use his bottle-warmer, a hand-me-down on its last legs that burns any stray dribbles of formula to fumes of weird chemical caramel. We worry that we can’t say no. We worry that we can’t say yes. We worry that Kinzey will become too dependent on us, that she’ll rely on us as the answer to all her mistakes. Most people regard choice as a good thing, but the weight of choosing, of the fear of regret, can become paralyzing. Over that week, Kinzey continues to text us, her hints becoming broader, becoming pleas.

And here’s the hard thing: this choice is really mine. Evan has always rolled with changes – absorbed them, planned around them, moved forward. But since I’m the one who’s borne the brunt of childcare, since this will affect me more, Evan defers to me. He’s gracious enough to support me, to call my decision ours, but if we’re honest, this is my call.

So finally, we circle back to our initial reaction: We can’t raise this baby, which is a kinder way of admitting I don’t want to. We slide our fingers from the page, unmark that path, never to follow that narrative. We text Kinzey to say, gently, that we’re sure she’ll make another set of parents as happy as she’s made us. As soon as we send it, we feel relief. As soon as we send it, we feel sad.

Choice can be an illusion: choosing a course does not mean control over that course. And you never choose only your own adventure. Kinzey, who had never been particularly regular in her correspondence, becomes nonresponsive. We guess that she’s sad too, probably hurt – we are the latest in a lifetime of rejections. Feeling guilty, not sure how to feel or what right we have to feel it, we don’t do as much as we might to keep up communications. We justify the lapse as giving her space to process this new pregnancy and adoption, to allow her time to be wooed by a new adoptive family. Growing up, no one ever praised her or told her she was special – she had positively glowed under the attention we gave her. We hope she’s getting that from someone else.

About a week before she gives birth, she surfaces, and starts responding to texts again, dropping what seem like careless little bombs as though she’s corresponded with us all along – it’s a boy, she’s told us that, right? and oh, hasn’t she told us the adoptive parents live in the same town as us? And then after the birth, she fades in and out, surfacing at times to request a visit, then canceling as the trip approaches. We feel sadness, relief.

Guilt, curiosity, self-torture – we are dying to know more about this boy, our son’s half-brother. We contact our adoption social worker, the woman who checked on us after Wyatt’s placement, who handles all placements for our area. We tell her we want to be in communication with his half-brother’s family, offer our contact info, request that they keep in touch. She passes along our info, and reports that while the family is willing, they’re a bit overwhelmed with a newborn at the moment, and with establishing a relationship with Kinzey, who apparently had waited until late in the pregnancy to choose a family (hoping we would change our minds?). They ask for space.

But over the next few months, every time we’re out in public, I look for new babies who resemble Kinzey and Wyatt – in North Dakota, towheads are the norm, so I study the dark-haired infants, search for the characteristic dimples, the softly cleft chin. Around their own adoption day at six months, we send congratulations, with pictures of Wyatt at that age and a description of his personality – his love of books, pickles, tacos, singing surprisingly in tune at the top of his lungs – hoping the comparison will intrigue them. We have yet to hear from them.

We – I – had a choice, and I said no. And my no continues to disturb me. Whom might I have harmed by my choice? Not us. My drought ends: my book is published and I write a new poetry manuscript that excites me. Evan ends his first year of law school at the top of his class and secures a lucrative clerkship. Not the new baby who, no doubt, is happily exploring solid foods and solid footing somewhere in my town.

Wyatt? What would Wyatt’s life have been like with a brother I wonder, when he tugs on my hand while I’m cooking, desperate for a playmate. When my sister-in-law drops the news that next year, their daughter is going to have a new little sister. When Jodi brings her own adopted son Eli over to play and the boys clamber on the furniture, the stairs, laughing and shoving, ignoring boundaries the way brothers do.

It’s said you can’t choose your family, but that’s not true – ours involved more choice than most. Our son had little say in any of it, but I don’t know if or how much this will hurt him. As an adoptive parent, I’m preparing – as much as one can through workshops and roleplaying and readings – for the inevitable questions he will ask us: Why didn’t my mom keep me? How do I know you’ll keep me? Who was my father? And I’ve tried to collect information for when he asks about other family, for if he chooses to get in touch, to ask them for answers I can’t give him. I’m preparing to deal with his hurt.

But Kinzey’s hurt is plain. What does it mean that I said no to her, a girl who said yes to us in the biggest, most unimaginably beautiful way possible?

I’m grateful for today’s model of open adoption, for humane communication to replace the wrenching away of babies from anonymous mothers. But it visits its own hurts. At some point, our love and nurturing of the birthmother is revealed as a sort of performance to gain the agency’s approval, to elicit her yes. An illusion exposed by its eventual limits. Open adoptions prolong the contact until new and different disappointments are probable, inevitable. Even under this new system, where it seems the birthmother makes all the choices, pain is still the price she pays for her mistakes – some in the old expected ways, some entirely unanticipated. Some in which I’ve participated.

Kinzey had choices; Kinzey had babies. She chose us and we said yes. Then, we – I – said no. I owe it to her to own it.


Heidi Czerwiec is Associate Professor of English at the University of North Dakota, where we just celebrated Spring Break with our sixth blizzard of the year. She is the author of Self-Portrait as Bettie Page (Barefoot Muse Press, 2013) and has work appearing or forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review and storySouth.

Megan Collins

2014, Poetry


My father’s haiku
aren’t concerned with images.
He ate a sandwich
from Charlie’s; there was too much
cheese. Every night,
he returns from work, his shirt
loose on his shoulders,
and he writes one down, counting
syllables like coins,
recording the baseball score,
the stock market leap.
He says how we’re both poets,
that it must have been
in my genes. But I want trees—
dogwoods—bursting blooms,
the scent of peeled oranges,
the throat of a frog.
Days, he manages, gives good
work to Bosnians
and crosses three states to fight
for raises. Driving home,
he makes a haiku for me,
then dials my number,
reads his poem to a machine.


My sister sat on his lap, feeding him M&Ms.
When she was done, the skin on her palms
was kaleidoscopic. He bounced her on his leg,
his laughter opaque from years of cigarettes.

             I understand there was a stroke. I understand
             that, for weeks, speech was impossible.

He loved the insulation business like he hated
his son’s dog, that malamute with a made-up name
who chewed the chair legs and stole the Sunday paper.
He once made a sale while delirious from fever.

             I understand there was a sick room. I understand
             that the light came amber through the windows.

My grandmother wore her wedding band on a gold chain
and learned to live alone. She kept him in a frame
on the fireplace, riding his bike on the railroad tracks,
his eyes fixed on something just past the photograph.

             I understand I was born too late. I understand
             the sheets had been washed, the bed remade.


Megan Collins received her MFA from Boston University. She teaches creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, as well as literature at Central Connecticut State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, including 3Elements Review, Linebreak, Off the Coast, Rattle, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. More information and links to her work can be found on her website at

Brittney Scott

2014, Poetry


There is always the shower,
flailing face first, a brief dance before
your teeth burst loose, neck snapping
lights-out style. The water descends,

it darkens around you.
Think about sockets, those friendly faces
grinning up from the baseboards.
All it takes is one wire’s wrongful rub

against another. A meeting between you
and a yardsale toaster warm under the weekend sun.
Is your basement dirt based?
Radon rises through your floor’s imperfections,

infests your body, enters
undetectable like the holy ghost, happiness,
those dreams you have of falling.
Bed linins are woven with formaldehyde,

a carcinogen which eventually fills you fully—
your lusty breakdown’s only preservative.
It’s coming, and you’re already floating off.
Your soft cavities will soften,
blood will clot against you.
The hoary oak drops its legacy

on the roof nightly, the damage it does
to silence, to forgetfulness,
your long standing denial
that unless you take an ax into its thick ringed trunk,

it will be here after you – the whole block,
fever, toxic plants, your pill bottles
expiring. All of it goes on without you.


There are two of you now,
your name appearing twice on my Gmail contact list.
And my laptop’s grinding brain
knows something of indecision and duality,
but this minor glitch rips
                                              open the space

between my reason and emotion.
In the time between our lunar distance,
I Google, follow, touch, star the moment
your emails enter my inbox. While Skyping, I read daily items
strewn behind your figure,
I read them as lonely
thrown bones.

While the miles spread over our bodies,
the re-runs end, the season
premiere of our favorite show gets TiVoed, and

every leaf falls from the late-night trees,
every leaf

flaunts its losing hand. In time,
you will tell me that you choose to be a better man.
By that you mean I am a bad decision, a negative
instead of a positive. Fault is funny, and faulty
and shifting beneath. All I have done
                                                                    undoes itself.

In the last snap-chat I sent, a monument
to impermanence, action without consequences,
moments placed outside of time
I am topless, winking,
my one eye already half-closed toward regret.


Brittney Scott
received her MFA from Hollins University. She is the 2012 recipient of the Joy Harjo Prize for Poetry as well as the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best New Poets 2014, Prairie Schooner, The New Republic, Narrative Magazine, Alaska Quarterly Review, North American Review, Crab Orchard Review, Poet Lore, New South, and elsewhere. Her fiction has appeared in Quarter After Eight. She teaches creative writing to adults, Girl-Scouts, and high-risk youth at Richmond’s Visual Arts Center.

Kathleen Jones

2014, Poetry


The dunes are sawdust. No, packed brown sugar.
I topple them with two-by-fours, with my fingers.
From the shambles I mold cubes, which dissolve
in coffee. Or, actually, in the muddy saltwater
that fills the mug, my own scooped hands.
The sky bruises the ocean, clouds low and leaky already.
Every headache I get is an unkind machine, a tempest
that melts the beach away, wet sand sticky
against the hands trying to hold the shore in place.
Shore: the horizon an ocean can see when it tries
to imagine beyond its own churning self.


Your left hand grips an onion. Your right a sharp knife.
I flinch at each thoughtless plunge, your assumption
that the onion will be the only thing severed.
I think about how I never renounce anything.
To strip myself clean of faith and fear—
I can’t imagine accepting such freedom.
You’ve shed childhood beliefs and you’re quick
with that blade. But my faith barely erodes
and I’m slow to cut. And wouldn’t the scraps
from the cutting board make a good home
for a worm to turn over and over, to writhe in joy?
We’re unsafe yet ecstatic on this small planet,
still certain we’ll crumble rightfully, cradled
in the palms of time. But when your friend died
too early, your weeping lacked both bitterness
and vision. I promised you she was happy,
no, I promised you there was nothing wrong
with her anymore. I don’t know if you agreed
or believed for me, in eternity or a nothingness
that—I agree—would be its own kind of peace.
But I don’t think skin as golden as yours could end up
only compost. The cells, yes, but not the light.


Kathleen Jones works as an educator and freelance designer in Wilmington, NC. She has an MFA in poetry from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work recently appeared in Ninth Letter Online, Middle Gray, Stirring, and Baldhip and is forthcoming from Heavy Feather Review.

sam sax

2014, Poetry


when we speak
we sing

try to repeat a phrase 
& not find music

the monotonic tongue too
is an exercise in sound
fire, a kind of salve
or slave to the mouth

the child prophet who burned
his tongue & still led his people
out of bondage

or another apocryphal story,
the man in chains who reads 
the dictionary & bursts into flames

perfected pitch – divined improvidence
polemic & polytechnic – the politics
of noise 
even the phrase ‘speech impediment’
carries its own kind music. even the phrase ‘warfare’
even ‘murder’
            its marauding baggage
            its stuttering thunderous corpse

oh sound, the simple tonal space
            between play & plate glass
            between bacchius & battle-axe

if only my people realized
we haven’t been promised
a homeland, rather, a song.
that jerusalem isn’t a place,
merely a series of sounds
that can written down
& taken anywhere.


odysseus strangled a man in the belly
of a wood horse who thought he heard
his wife screaming, the french resistance
fed infants opiate laced breast milk,
josh & i held each other trembling
below the stairs
as my brother & his friends rampaged
through the house, liquor rampaging
through them. silence is what comes
at the end of all our loud suffering
or during it. the film does not beg
the organ’s accompaniment.
my first time for money i was so quiet
he could hear coins falling inside me.
might have mistaken my blood
for a symbol :: crashing.
what i’m arguing for is the impermanence
of beauty – hand unstuffing the carcass

of sawdust – when my body is in the ground
decomposing & disgusting,

who will pay to sleep with me then?


Sam Sax is a fellow at The Michener Center for Writers & the associate poetry editor for Bat City Review. He’s the two time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion & author of the chapbooks, A Guide to Undressing Your Monsters (Button Poetry, 2014), and sad boy / detective (winner of the 2014 Black River Chapbook Prize). His poems have been published or are forthcoming from Boston Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Minnesota Review, The Normal School, Rattle, Vinyl, & other journals.